While much information exists about the structure and function of the clonally distributed T cell receptor (TCR) alpha beta heterodimer, little is known about the gamma protein, the product of a third rearranging TCR gene. An antiserum to a carboxyl-terminal peptide common to several of the murine gamma chain constant regions and a monoclonal antibody to the murine T3 complex were used to identify products of this TCR gene family in a subpopulation of Lyt2-, L3T4- thymocytes. This subpopulation does not express TCR alpha or full-length TCR beta messenger RNA. The gamma chain is a 35-kilodalton (kD) protein that is disulfide-bonded to a 45-kD partner and is associated with the T3 complex. Analysis of the glycosylation pattern of this thymic gamma chain revealed that the major variable region gamma (V gamma) gene transcribed in activated peripheral T cells is absent from this subpopulation. The cells that bear this second T cell receptor may therefore represent a distinct lineage differentiating within the thymus.

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